“What do you do at Notre Dame?” This is the question I am asked the most when people find out I work at Notre Dame. I would try to explain to them what I do, but every explanation that I would come up with was lacking. I would list my duties, and try to explain what they entailed but this was met with puzzled looks and many, many follow up questions. I’ve tried over the years to simplify my answer as best I could, sometimes just giving the definition of a sacristan right out of the Merriam – Webster dictionary, “a person in charge of the sacristy and ceremonial equipment.” This approach didn’t work and nothing I could come up with seemed to adequately describe what I do at Notre Dame.
Even now, after thirty-one years of being a sacristan at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, I still think about how to explain my job to someone. I’ve begun to think about a different point of view to explain what I do, a personal point of view. Not just the description on a job posting. What do I think I do at Notre Dame? How do I answer this question when asked of myself?
I unknowingly began to answer this question for myself three years ago while on a pilgrimage to France. Throughout the pilgrimage, we visited churches large and small from LeMans to Paris. A few of the churches we visited were in small, out of the way villages, farming communities. At these small village churches, we were warmly greeted and welcomed by the parishioners. We would visit the church, have Mass with the parishioners and then there would be a reception for us in a parish building, or sometimes in the church itself. Food and drink were offered to us, even though they had never met us. There was very little in the way of verbal communication, they spoke no English and the majority of us spoke little no French, but we did communicate. A smile, a handshake, a polite nod towards the food and drinks, the raising of a glass in thanks and the return acknowledgment. We didn’t have much in common except our mutual faith.
After I returned home from the pilgrimage to France, I saw my work at the Basilica in a new and different way. Besides focusing on the day to day tasks and whatever special service we were having in the Basilica, I started to think about the people coming into the Basilica. I remember how good it made me feel to be welcomed into a strange place. How at home I felt in a foreign place from just a handshake and a smile. Most of the people I see coming into the Basilica are visitors, pilgrims, just like I was in France. My work at the Basilica is a welcoming to these people. The worshipers, the visitors, the pilgrims, everyone should be welcomed and feel welcomed in God’s house.
As I go about my work at the Basilica, I really do enjoy the thought that most of the people I see every day are new to the Basilica and the University. I have the opportunity to impact their visit to the Basilica and the University, for the good.
Jonathan Hehn, Choral Program Director and Organist
So often, making music we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moves us to a more profound Alleluia! (1)
Why do I minister? Because I love leading the song of the Church. More than any other time, it is while leading congregational song that I find a profound sense of joy and purpose, and, thanks be to God, it is there that I am also able to encounter the world’s deep need.
People often ask me about my job, and at Notre Dame especially whether I love playing the Basilica organs. Those questions give me an opportunity to consider what exactly it is about my vocation that keeps me going. Do I love playing the organ? Yes. The organs here on campus are magnificent. Do I love directing choirs? Absolutely yes, and Notre Dame has some of the best collegiate choirs in the country. But what I love most is leading the song of the congregation. Congregational singing is at the core of my identity as a pastoral musician because I believe congregational singing does some things that other types of music making cannot.
The Power of Congregational Song to Promote Empathy
First, congregational singing brings the whole assembly into sense of empathy with one another. Of course, one could think about that empathy theologically. To paraphrase the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, singing together in worship fosters our unity as the gathered People of God and tunes our thoughts into the joyful mysteries of the liturgy. But one can also think about that empathy scientifically; indeed researchers are discovering that singing together not only builds stronger social/psychological bonds, but that singing together for an extended period of time actually causes people’s breathing and heartbeats to synchronize. Singing together creates literal, physiological empathy.
When I’m at my best leading song from the organ, I also get to experience that empathy. It’s a mystery to me how it is, in a Basilica filled with a thousand people, that I can feel them all breathing together between phrases of a hymn, but I often do so from my perch in the organ loft. Similarly, whenever one of the stanzas of a hymn has a particularly rousing text, I can feel the congregation instinctively making a praise-filled crescendo, which I can then seek to match with a crescendo from the organ. The experience can be intense, and often I can sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in those times, moving us all to a more profound expression of praise.
Jonathan leads the opening hymn from the 2018 Lenten Choir Concert at the University of Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, March 3, 2018.
The Power of Congregational Song to Express Diversity and Hospitality
People sometimes remark to me that the Roman Rite has too little room for creativity, or that it’s too narrowly Western/Italian/Roman in its structure and aesthetic. Depending on the day, I might agree with them. But in reality, there is a tremendous potential for flexibility in the Roman Rite, and, fortunately for us musicians, most of that potential lies in the realm of music. What I love about the flexibility of music in the liturgy is how it can help us celebrate the diversity of creation and offer hospitality to the “others” in our midst. That’s the second thing I think congregational singing can do in a way that other musics cannot.
When I was a kid, the congregation I was part of, though it was almost completely homogenous, made an intentional effort to sing music from a wide variety of Christian cultures around the world. At the time, I just thought that it was fun to sing songs from Brazil, or Tanzania, or Singapore. But what I realize now is that those songs were teaching me about the diversity of God’s people. I was learning that there were people different from me who shared my faith, and who were no less created in the image of God than I. As a leader of song, I want to pass on to others that same idea: the more we reflect the diversity of creation in our music, the more we reflect the image and glory of God.
In a place like Notre Dame, we have an obligation to both uphold our musical tradition and to reflect the diversity of the university’s increasingly global community. That’s part of why I minister, because I love using congregational song to help my community sing its solidarity with other Christian cultures, cultures which can teach us much about how to live the Christian life, and which help us broaden our image of God.
A wise colleague of mine once reminded me that, for our increasingly diverse congregations, including different genres and cultural musics in worship is also a matter of hospitality. Choosing to sing music only from the majority culture in our churches is missing the opportunity to show the “other” among us that they are valued. It’s also a way in which we can enable visitors to the liturgy who are not familiar with our language or songs to participate with us in prayer. As a leader of congregational song, if I can help enable the congregation’s celebration of diversity and its sense of hospitality, then I will.
The Power of Congregational Song to Capture the Human Experience
Lastly, congregational song can enable us to sing through the full range of our experience as people, and can help us have difficult theological conversations. Singing the praise of God is a good and noble venture, of course, but praise is not the only function of congregational song. Hymns and psalms are also there to give us voice when we mourn, or when we are angry at God, or when we feel confused and frustrated by what is going on in the world around us. They are a means of having a theological conversation.
When I choose music for the liturgy, I constantly look for opportunities to bring people into those theological conversations. When our hearts are overflowing with emotion, with grief, with anger, with frustration, we often find ourselves at a loss for words. Songs can be a means of helping us process those emotions, and open us to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is with us in the act of singing and who intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words alone.
One congregation I served some years ago held an annual “Blue Christmas” liturgy. It was a modified service of evening prayer meant for people who have a hard time with the holidays because of difficult relationships, deaths of family members, or a host of other reasons. One family in particular that I knew planned to attend that service one year was struggling with the death of young child. I also knew based on my conversations with others at the church that many were struggling to make sense of the ongoing school shootings that plague our nation even today. There was an opportunity there to use congregational song both as a tool for healing and as way to give voice to the pain felt by those around me. That year we decided to sing a song gifted to the Church by the Scottish minister John Bell. We sang it quietly in the middle of the service, with resolve, with simultaneous grief and hope:
There is a place prepared for little children, those we once lived for, those we deeply mourn those who from play, from learning and from laughter cruelly were torn.
There is a place where hands which held ours tightly now are released beyond all hurt and fear, healed by that love which also feels our sorrow tear after tear.
There is a place where God will hear our questions, suffer our anger, share our speechless grief, gently repair the innocence of loving and of belief. (2)
At other times, our anger might call us to sing loudly, crying out in discontent, whether in the church or on the front steps of the state capitol building. Recently, more and more people of faith have discovered the power of singing together in and about the public square using texts like this one from Carolyn Winfrey Gillette:
The children come, not sure where they are going; Some little ones have seen their siblings die. They’ve traveled north — a tide that keeps on growing, A stream of life beneath the desert sky. Their welcome here? Detention, overflowing. O Lord of love, now hear your children’s cry!
The children come in search of something better; They’ve traveled here with nothing in their hands. On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather Leads to a phone, a brother here, a plan.
They come alone — or sometimes band together; They bring a plea that we will understand. O Christ our Lord, you welcomed in the stranger; You blessed the children, telling them to stay. Be in the desert, with the tired and injured; Be at the border where they are afraid. Be on each bus where children sense the danger, As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!”
God, let each one know justice, peace and welcome — And may your gift of mercy start with me. For unto such as these belongs your kingdom, And in each child, it is your face we see. May we, your church, respond in truth and action, And with you, Lord, say, “Let them come to me.” (3)
These types of powerful texts and these opportunities — to promote empathy, to celebrate diversity, to create a sense of hospitality, and to enable us all to sing through the full range of our human experience — these are why I minister. These are why I spend countless hours in rehearsals and staring down the pages of a hymnal index. Leading the song of church gives me purpose, gives me joy, and most of all, gives me an opportunity to witness to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. I know that, by that grace, the Holy Spirit will continue to guide me in my work here at Notre Dame, so that worshipping together as one, we may sing to the triune God an ever more profound “Alleluia.”
(1) From the hymn “When In Our Music God is Glorified” by Fred Pratt Green, 1972.
(2) From the collection When Grief is Raw: Songs for Times of Sorrow and Bereavement by John L. Bell and Graham Maule.
Karen Schneider Kirner, Choral Program Director and Organist
So often we’re in the routine of doing things that we forget to stop and take stock of why it is we’re doing what we’re doing. We get so caught up in our busyness and keep charging ahead with everyday routines. That’s why I’ve particularly enjoyed this “assignment” of offering a reflection on why I minister at Notre Dame as an organist and choir director. I’ve come up with a “top ten” list to share, but this is in no way comprehensive.
Reason Ten: Gotta love the diversity of skills required for someone working in music ministry! Not only do I direct choirs, play the organ, and occasionally compose music, but I also work with teams of students and colleagues. Other requirements are people skills and inviting students to join in our ministry, along with planning upcoming events. There is never a dull day in the office.
Reason Nine: The words we sing in Church remind us of our values and beliefs, and help keep us on the right and true path where we need to be, oriented towards God. This is why a church musician’s job of selecting texts that we put on the lips of the faithful is so crucial and important. We are more apt to stand up for justice if we are regularly reminded of our values. I see a very high percentage of our choir members going into service-related careers after graduation, and that’s something to be celebrated, living in a world that often seems to lack a moral foundation.
Reason Eight: Saint Augustine had it right when he said, “To Sing is to Pray Twice!” Music has a powerful way to ingrain texts within us and deepen our understanding of them, particularly when they’ve been set to music by inspired composers. Fostering the prayer of any gathered assembly has always been a top priority. Music can easily become a distraction, and the intent is always to keep the focus on the texts being sung, and put these texts on the lips of the assembly.
Reason Seven: We can instantly unite people coming from different cultural backgrounds by doing music of diverse music styles and time periods, languages, and through incorporating a diversity of musical instruments. As part of the universal Church, we want to ensure that truly “all are welcome.” We have a broad palette of music to choose from that can unite us. We’ve seen in recent years how much our country is torn by disunity, so it’s time we all took a stand for unity through whatever means we are able!
Reason Six: Serving as a musician at our Basilica of the Sacred Heart has always been a joy and privilege, that never gets old. The Basilica is truly the heart of our campus, where our community of N.D. and the community of the wider Church gathers to celebrate mass, highlighted feasts of the liturgical year, births, marriages, where we mourn our dead, administer the sacraments of initiation, and ordain men to the priesthood, representing the future of our Church. What a privilege and grace to experience so many powerful moments that really matter, throughout the entire year!
Reason Five: Unity. Liturgical music, whether singing/participating in it, powerfully connects people to one another, whether its with a group of people who know each other as in a choir that meets regularly, or a disparate group of people who will only all be together a single time, coming from many different places and walks of life. Music is a God-given instrument that connects us not only to each other, but us to God. It seems that people have grown more isolated with the rise of technology that was oddly designed to connect us, so we need music more than ever to bring us together. Did you know that scientific studies show that when a group of people sing together, their heartbeats often align? Singing is also found to decrease stress, depression, and anxiety, and gives us a sense we are part of something much bigger than ourselves, which is the Universal Church!
Reason Four: Music does save lives! This may seem like an overstatement, but I’ve witnessed this countless times. For those battling addictions, depression, loneliness or anxieties, not only does the act of singing elevate our spirits, but choir members are held accountable to the larger group, where it’s important to show up on a regular basis, and members are instantly part of a loving, nurturing group that wants to see each and every member succeed. Singing in a choir or making music with another group of people is one of the best ways to stay healthy and be emotionally supported when we are living in very challenging times.
Reason Three: It’s all about the PEOPLE. When I reflect back on my twenty years in music ministry here at N.D., it’s the names and faces of those I’ve worked with that matter the most. So many students who were involved in sacred music here have continued lives of service after they leave this place, whether they are doing this full-time or part-time. Numerous couples have met/married through participating in our choirs. A good number of men have entered the priesthood. Through our choir pilgrimage tours domestic and around the world, we almost exclusively stay with families from the parishes we are visiting, who give us unique insights about their own Christian communities. What a gift!
Reason Two: Plain and simply, for evangelization! Pope Francis said this best in his 2013 document, Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel. If you haven’t read this yet, it’s well worth a read. In my case, I’m serving countless pilgrims who make their way each year to our beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart, connecting young people more deeply with their faith through music and participation in our choirs, or taking our choirs to sing for our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated or homeless. God is with us in every situation we may find ourselves in life, and my most powerful experiences have often been going “off the beaten path.”
Reason One: FAMILY. Family is created through our choirs and working closely with colleagues. The great thing about N.D. is that people keep coming back to this place, not only for football, but for things that really matter, like weddings, baptisms, for the Triduum, and times of loss, to be grounded anew in what drew them to this place initially: our faith in Jesus Christ. We are rooted in our Catholic faith, sent forth with hope, love and joy to bring to the world!
Wednesday, May 16, 2018, was an amazing day. I was able to celebrate my Godson Joey’s graduation from Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As Joey walked across the stage on a sunny Colorado day, I beamed with joy as I flashed back to the many fond memories I have with him: watching him learn to walk, fall and skin his knees, showing him around the Notre Dame campus, exploring the Science Museum in Chicago, hiking the Rockies, his First Communion and Confirmation, experiencing the ups and downs of school, sharing our love for music, and attending his band competition- just to name a few. As he walked down the steps of the stage, he was all smiles and filled with excitement for his next step of attending college at Colorado State in Fort Collins.
Joey and I were later shown a photo of me holding him at his Baptism. Joey blushed and I was shocked by how young I looked with a beard and thin frame. Where does time go? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I have been held by God, even now. It is never too late to let yourself be loved by God.
Jesus became human and can identify that we have our ups and downs. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, was angry when the temple officials cheated the poor, was frustrated when the disciples did not understand that he came to serve and wash feet, and was not going to establish a political kingdom where the Jews would be prosperous and on top. Jesus sweat blood at the thought of his cross and the pain and torture he would soon experience. He enjoyed meals and weddings, and loved being with friends just as you and I do.
Jesus also felt he was held by God and we know this from scripture. After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, God said, “You are my Beloved Son and with you I am well pleased.” On Mount Tabor, shortly before he was heading to Jerusalem where Jesus would suffer and die, God appeared to Peter, James, and John and again voiced, “Listen to Jesus, with Him I am well pleased.” In prayer, Jesus opened his heart to share his thoughts and feelings with God. He would feel God holding him and assuring that he was there to walk with him through the disappointments, the grief in losing Lazarus, the frustration in the disciples and even his own family’s lack of knowing who he really was.
I love being a priest and have been serving God and God’s People for over 38 years. I love serving the 5,000 children of God here at Notre Dame for the past 5 years. Yet, I have also had many ups and downs over the years. I’ve felt the sting of grief when my mother and father died and I still miss them dearly. My brother, Tom, and sister, Barb, are very dear to me along with their children and grandchildren. They have all loved me over and over again- I am deeply blessed.
On the other hand, I have also been hurt by the people I have served and call family, and I have experienced depression and loneliness along the way. However, I have always been able to be open with God and share these thoughts and feelings. Sometimes God seems distant and I feel like I am in a desert just as Jesus was. I have felt temptation, but honestly, I have never felt abandoned or rejected by God. Our God is a God of love.
As University Staff Chaplain, I was recently talking with a staff member who shared that he grew up with a very fearful sense of a God who would be out to punish if you did not obey the commandments or follow the laws of the Church. His pastor spoke only about a God who judge’s people and never talked about a God who forgives or gives people hope in Christ. It is my mission to share this hope.
The blessing of Spiritual Companions have helped me to come back to God and open my heart. Sometimes family, friends, or often a stranger would say to me after Mass “Father, this parish is one of the most welcoming I have ever attended. I have loved your homilies and your leadership is outstanding. I am joining.” A message such as this came at a time when I was struggling for a number of reasons. I believe in Divine Providence and that God sends us people and events that are not just coincidence but God’s way of saying, “I am with you and holding you” as if you were an infant- even if you are 66 years old.
Brett Perkins, Assistant Director for Sacramental Preparation & Catechesis
“The results of your physical came back, and I’m sorry to say that you have cancer.” These are never the words that you want to hear from your doctor. They are especially devastating to hear when you’re an otherwise healthy 18 year old who is flying high after graduating from high school and preparing to enter Notre Dame as a freshman that fall. Yet these are precisely the words I was hearing from my doctor on that hot, humid central Illinois afternoon in June 1997. In that moment, I felt disconnected from myself, as though I was floating above the room and looking down into that doctor’s office, like I was somehow a passive onlooker to some other person’s misfortune. Yet this was my diagnosis, not someone else’s. Questions raced through my mind. Now what? Was college out of the question? Would I even be alive to go to college? But the doctor wasn’t finished.
“I know this is hard to wrap your mind around,” the doctor continued, “but I’d like to propose that we take you over to the hospital for surgery ASAP, to remove the tumor.”
“ASAP? You mean, like, in the next day or two?”
“No, like this afternoon. I’ll be heading out of town tomorrow and this tumor really needs to be dealt with now.”
“Ok, doctor, uh, whatever you think.”
And off we went to prep for surgery at the local Catholic hospital.
As I gradually awoke in the hospital room after surgery, I remember the sudden release of so many tears as emotions tied to pain and fear, frustration and anxiety rushed into my consciousness. Then, lying in that hospital bed, I had what is to this day one of the most profound encounters with the love of God that I have ever had in my life. As my eyes began to focus as I struggled against the anesthesia, my eyes were drawn like a magnet to the crucifix on the wall at the foot of the bed. In the midst of my own profound brokenness and without clarity on what my future would hold, I looked at our Lord’s own body, broken on the cross. Bringing His suffering into dialogue with my own, I became aware in some small way of what Jesus must have felt on that first Good Friday. Once again, tears began to stream, yet this time they were coming not from pain or fear, but from becoming personally aware of just what Jesus had done for me by dying on that cross. I was also made aware, in that instant, of my own unresponsiveness and passivity in the face of such love: the Lord knew well that I had plenty of mess-ups and sins in my life, and yet His love for me was so much greater than any sin I could ever commit. While I wouldn’t have been able to reference it then, one of my favorite Scriptures today reflects well the life-altering realization I had in that hospital bed:
For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
In that room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur, Illinois, I experienced personally the mercy and love of Jesus for me. I came to understand that He would see me through my cancer, whatever the outcome; I had nothing to worry about, for He had conquered death and brought new life to even the darkness of the cross. While I had grown up in a Christian household, this was perhaps the first moment that my faith “clicked” for me, when I experienced for myself God’s faithfulness, tenderness, and loving kindness. In some small way, I also began to sense that I would be called to share this love of God with everyone, though I couldn’t have imagined then what form that might take.
Fast forward to 2004. In the seven years that had passed, I’d beaten cancer, had an incredible experience of collegiate life at Notre Dame, and graduated with a major in finance and a minor in theology. While at Notre Dame, I’d also become Catholic. A friend’s invitation to Mass got that ball rolling, and there I encountered again the love of Jesus giving Himself to us fully in the Holy Eucharist, an encounter that was only reinforced by the witness of the lives of so many on-fire Catholics I’d met at Notre Dame, especially through the RCIA process. Upon graduation, I had taken a job with a prestigious financial consulting firm and, alongside dozens of friends, made the move to Chicago. Everything in life seemed to be landing perfectly for me…yet I knew that something deep down was missing. A phone call I received in July 2004 from one of my Campus Ministry mentors helped me name that void, when she invited me to consider coming back to Notre Dame to work in…Campus Ministry. Whoa. This was not a part of the life plan I’d worked out for myself. What could God possibly be doing now in the midst of my otherwise perfect life? Countless hours of recollection and prayerful discernment followed, including many conversations with others. In the course of that discernment, and through others’ affirmation of my gifts, God made one thing abundantly clear to me: I had an explicit call to ministry in my life, and that the trajectory of my life had indeed been leading me to this decision point. I knew what I had to do.
I’m now completing my fourteenth year of young adult ministry at Notre Dame. Here, I finally discovered my heart’s desire: to accompany young adults as they, too, searched for meaning and grace in their lives. Looking back on my experience of God throughout my life, I can now explain why I minister. I minister because I have experienced personally the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, to whom I owe my life, and I desire only to lead others to an encounter with that same love and mercy. There is no other reason that I am where I am today, except for the grace of God and my simple openness to follow where He was leading me. But I don’t minister simply out of nostalgia for one particular experience of God from 20+ years ago. No, I minister because God has never stopped sending His Son to me (and to all) whenever I encounter Him anew in prayer, in Scripture, in family and friends, in those I serve, and especially when I receive Him in Holy Communion at Mass each day. Nope, I’m no saint; I’m a work in progress like everyone else. But I know that it is precisely because I remain open to encountering the love and mercy of Jesus each day that I have the courage and strength to keep building God’s Kingdom, one person at a time, and no matter what else life throws my way.
For the past five years in Campus Ministry, my primary work has been to direct the very ministry that helped me come home to the Catholic Church, the RCIA Process. With each new group of students, I am blessed to hear the stories of individuals who have had their own “aha” moments, who have encountered God and felt the nudge of a loving Father who calls them to investigate the Catholic Christian faith or go deeper in their previous faith commitment. I hear stories of divine Providence that led them here to Notre Dame, perhaps firstly for academic pursuits but then, sometimes quite unexpectedly, to discover the God who fulfills the deepest longings of their hearts. I then have the distinct pleasure of accompanying them as they make their own response in faith, which is then sealed in covenant through the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Basilica each year. I minister in RCIA because of joy, which I experience whenever new intentional disciples of Jesus are launched out into our world and then go off to build the Kingdom of God wherever they are planted, that even more might come to know, love, and serve God. Each time we celebrate the Sacraments with one of my RCIA cohorts, I’m reminded of my own journey that God began in me so many years ago. And it is precisely because of my own experience of the mercy and love of Jesus, that day in the hospital and every day since, that I minister today.
“The most beautiful and stirring adventure that can happen to you is the personal meeting with Jesus, who is the only one who gives real meaning to our lives.” – Pope St. John Paul II
Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C., Coordinator of “Need to Talk?”, Chaplain to Latino Student Ministry
Not long ago someone asked me this question. “Father, if you had your life to live over again, would you?” And my first response was, “No way.” The person was surprised and asked why I wouldn’t want to live my life over. I said, “There’s absolutely no way that I could be so blessed a second time around.”
Fr. John Dunne, C.S.C. (RIP) used to say this. “The worst thing that can happen to you in your life is not that your life plan fail, but that it work, because God’s life plan is always so much bigger and better and deeper than anything that you could have ever thought up for yourself.” That has certainly been the case in my life. My life has been fuller and richer and deeper than anything that I could have ever put together for myself.
My life has been filled with more opportunities and richness than I could ever have imagined. God has been unspeakably good and generous to me. God has seen me through ups and downs, successes and failures, hopes and disappointments, and so much more.
I often ask myself if I love God. I know, for sure, that I want to love God with all my heart and soul and being. But I don’t know if I do. On the one hand I think that I would not want to love God with my whole being if I did not already do so. I hope that this is true.
Recall the seventh chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke. When Jesus goes to dine at Simon’s house, a sinful woman washes the feet of Jesus with her tears and dries them with her hair. Jesus says of her, “She has loved much because she has been forgiven much.” Well, if this is true, then it is very true of me. God has forgiven me so much that I hope that it can be said of me, “Joe has loved much because he has been forgiven much.”
And so the question for me is not “Why I Minister” but how could I not minister? God has been so generous, so lavish, abundant in loving me. God has been so reckless with his mercy and forgiveness towards me that I cannot not minister. How could I not want to share with others all that God has given to me? God has given me so much that were I not to share it in ministry, I would be hoarding such great gifts that God has given to me. And all the gifts that God gives to one are given for the good of the community, not for the individual.
There is a great story about St. Therese of Lisieux. She would go to confession often and she would confess the smallest of faults. And one day her confessor said to her, “But Sister you don’t have to come to confession to confess such small faults.” She replied, “Yes, Father, but who are you to be stingy with a treasure that is not yours?” So were I not to minister I would be being stingy with a treasure that is not mine. Whatever I have, I have been given by God, and for others.
And so I minister, out of deep gratitude for all that God has given to me and always hoping that others might experience how rich and blessed they are by God, how loved and cherished they are by God, how God always has their back, how God is always on their side.
And so I gratefully and willingly celebrate the Eucharist in dorm chapels, at the Basilica, at the Milkshake Mass, at Mass in Spanish, in parishes, always looking for opportunities to preach about the mercy and love of God.
And so I gratefully and willingly hear confessions inasmuch as is possible whenever asked because the sacrament of confession remains a unique opportunity to extend the mercy of God to others.
And so I gratefully and willingly minister in Campus Ministry trying to accompany students on their journey toward God, walking with them, side by side, helping them to know that they are immensely cherished and loved and redeemed and forgiven by God.
And so I gratefully and willingly live in Dillon Hall with about 300 undergraduates where I try to share life with them, always trying to be a sign of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
And so I gratefully and willingly do what I can do because God has given me so much and has been so good and generous to me. In the end, how could I not? When I was named to be a Missionary of Mercy, I said, “God has shown me a lifetime of mercy. How could I not share it with others?”
And it’s true, so true. The question that I have to ask myself is not why I minister, but how could I not.
Christian Santa Maria, Assistant Director of Retreats and Pilgrimages
On the top floor of the then AT&T building in downtown Los Angeles, I grabbed a drink from the bar and looked out the 25-foot floor-to-ceiling windows just like everyone else. I was an intern at Fox Sports West in Los Angeles and the 2009 NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, were parading in a cloud of ticker tape below. The parade viewing party was buzzing with excitement and I, an eager broadcasting student, was in the midst of the celebrations in one of the most historic television markets in the country. However, my eyes were fixed toward the east on the unending landscape of rail road tracks, factories, cement, and metal. Down below, there were workers and Los Angelinos going about their day working or driving across town doing whatever it is they need to be doing. I gripped my drink pondering how my experience was tied up with theirs; what was it that connected us? Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder, “What are you looking at over there? The parade is on this side!” It was one of my fellow interns. I had not realized I was looking through the wrong windows. My palms were sweaty. I turned around, followed him, and took a sip of my beverage. My drink was getting warm.
That afternoon, was a pivotal episode in my discernment. Here I was, in the midst of a great opportunity and there was a deep voice within that knew this life was not for me. Now, television broadcasting is a noble profession, one that I had dreamed about since I was a kid, but an inconvenient truth was brewing inside. This line of work was not something I could see myself doing.
So, here I am. A little short of a decade later sitting in my office as one of the new campus ministers here in Campus Ministry writing about why I have chosen to do this work. Better yet, why in some ways it has chosen me. I often tell this story because it serves as the beginning of my journey toward becoming. Becoming is a place of transition, it’s about gently shedding ourselves of the things we have come to know as untrue so we can gradually live out who we are. It is on this road of becoming that we encounter our need to forgive, to be forgiven, to reconcile, to accept, to listen, to love, to grieve, to heal, to recognize our limitation, and essentially, to become more human. How tempting it is to run away from our humanity and live as if we have an alternative choice. Yet college, if we choose to recognize it, is a time ripe for becoming. It is time set aside to ask the real questions that lie within the heart while being lovingly accompanied by a God who not only invites us into our own humanity but radically joins us in it.
I minister because, in this crazy experience of life, becoming the person God made us to be is one of the most joyful and challenging things we can choose to do. Often, our becoming is drowned out by the noise of our daily lives. Between all the “likes”, “tweets”, football games, crushes, relationships, friendships, emails, club meetings, familial expectations, and of course, school, students in college are constantly navigating the game of busy, busy, busy. I am thankful for the people in my own life who invited me to stop awhile and be still. These ministers helped me hit the pause button and drew my attention towards God’s movement within my own heart.
Retreats and pilgrimages are like these long pauses; a chance for our students to catch their breath, find again what has been lost, and discover what they need to continue on their journey toward becoming. These sacred moments give students the permission to ask the real questions that get ignored amidst the clutter. This is how a Holy Cross education is different from other institutions. In Campus Ministry, we invite students to take some time and pause. Whether students are trying to discover new friendships, discerning life after college, or somewhere in between, our hope is that they take some time away from the busyness and enter back on their journey toward becoming just a bit more whole hearted than before.
So here’s to you fellow companion on the journey towards becoming! It’s the adventure of a life time. But, if it ever gets too bumpy or you just need someone to walk alongside you, let’s get coffee or go for a walk sometime. It would be my pleasure. After all, that’s why I minister.
Kayla August, Assistant Director of Evangelization
As he hobbled toward the obstacle course with certain confidence, I realized “why I minister.”
This camper was a boy about 10 years old. I had first met him a few days before, as his parents checked-in him, his bags, and his brother at the camp drop off location. The father carried his son’s crutches, wrapped in army duct tape, as this camper cautiously walked up to the camp check-in location.
“You want us to put these under the bus with his luggage?” I questioned, as his father handed us the crutches along with his suitcases. It seemed to me that if someone took the time to bring crutches, they must want to use them.
“He shouldn’t need them,” his father responded, “they are here just in case.”
At that point, I noticed this camper’s metal leg complete with tennis shoe as he strode away to join the other kids in the main lobby. His name was Dylan, and I later learned that he had lost his leg only a few months before and was in the transitional period of learning to walk in a new way.
This was not a jarring moment because this encounter is not unusual for the camps I work for in the summer. Camp Pelican, a camp for kids with pulmonary diseases, and Camp Challenge, a camp for kids with Cancer, Sickle cell, and other blood disorders, have become a regular part of my summers. For these campers, the result of these ailments is not only the loss of health but the loss of other things kids are not prepared for: hair, the ability to walk, and the general security of being a “normal” kid. The awkward innocence that is prevalent in most prepubescent’s is replaced with adult considerations like the reality that life may not only be different from that of their peers, but shorter as well.
When I first started working these camps 13 years ago, I realized that this week gives these kids what their hearts desire most. Not a cure, but that sense of normalcy that the disease takes away in their day-to-day life. The opportunity to not stand out in the crowd but to just “fit in.”
After an early morning preparing for a new day of camp, I set up an obstacle course for a Star Wars themed morning of physical activities. This course designed as “stormtrooper training” was compiled of tunnels to crawl through, crates to hop over, chairs to dart around, round tire-like objects to step through, and it ended with a Jenga block minefield that was only complete if you passed through it with all blocks standing unmoved.
The majority of male campers that came to the course that day rushed through the course with glee. In fact, it quickly became an intense competition for each one reaching the end asking, “what was my time,” in an attempt to be the best of the day! As each camper went through, I did my part to keep them pumped and excited using their competitive nature as a way to keep them motivated throughout the hour.
But, in my morning effort of creating a course brimming with kid intensity, I had not considered Dylan. When Dylan approached, we started the time as usual. Then, I quickly realized that this was an endeavor where the lowest time was not the prize but completion was the victory.
Accuracy was Dylan’s goal. Dylan started out slowly on the course placing his legs in each “tire” and the determinedly crawling through the tunnel ahead. He was determined but not hasty. As the goal of completion became the forefront, one of his counselors yelled “Go Dylan!” and the boys in his group turned to watch and cheer on their friend. The room was at a standstill, and all eyes were on Dylan as he made his way through the course. While it had previously been a competition, Dylan’s victory would be a win for everyone.
The slow rise of his name first crept in from the voices of the campers behind me…“Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dylan!” Then, his name echoed from the mouths of his group mates and his counselors as he steadily walked around the chairs meant for darting, walking over the crates meant for hopping and made his way through the “minefield’ without dropping a single Jenga block. As he crossed the finish line, there was no time called out as before. There was no need. He’d won more than a reduced time. He’d won a greater victory, and with this, he beamed as he noticed no difference between the friends that went before him and his completion of the course. His goal was accuracy and he achieved it with a room of fans cheering his name.
It was this moment that I realized this camp, which I’ve been a part of for almost half my life, was a ministry, and a beautiful one at that! While creating costumes, skits, and activities for the week long sleep over camp experience, I was also sharing with the kids the love of God, and that love is powerful.
For me, ministry has always been about that love. The Christian community contains a family that loves us for exactly who we are, a love that calls us to more than what we thought we could, and a faith that reminds us that we are capable of miracles if we let that love guide us.
This is why I minister. That love gives us courage. It gives us hope. It propels us. It gives us the power to complete the obstacle course of life with smiles on our faces and cheers in our hearts. Camp isn’t the only place people encounter the struggles of life. It’s all around us. Our society is filled with hardships, poverty, crime, illness, natural disasters, broken relationships, unhealthy attachments, and unearned struggles that people face which are far from fair but are actualities nonetheless. When a student comes before me in tears dealing with the hardships of life, I am the reminder of God’s love. A reminder that God hasn’t left them, but is instead holding their hand through the Jenga minefield of their day to day struggles. In ministry, Christ is the one screaming their name and I get to cheer them on along the way. I get to be there as they realize the beauty of what God made them to be.
That moment with Dylan reminded me that I’m not just a part of a camp community but a church family and that the power of love and support has been a motivating force in my life. Everyone is welcome to that family, and as Dylan made his way through the obstacle course, the kingdom of God manifested in a way that brought to life a clear vision of the world. One where a pure love was the ultimate unifying source. A world we all want to live in. A world that we were meant for.
Thirteen years ago, this view of the kingdom motivated me to make the whole world that small campsite in southern Louisiana. It showed me what the radical love of Christ can do. Everyone was invited to share in that love and receive the hope it brings.
As the Assistant Director of Evangelization, it’s my job to share that love. Evangelizing is being able to spread the good news. That this love is for everyone! In my ministerial life, my goal is that everyone comes to know the power of that love. I’m reminded of this as I read the gospels and see the revolutionary way in which Jesus’ love touched and changed the hearts of those he encountered. In fact, after his resurrection, Christians risked death to preach of this life-changing love. The love that not only made the blind see or the lame walk, but also called people to walk away from all they knew to follow a new path of hope.
With each student I encounter, I mirror that love of Christ, so that they may experience it as I have. That inner awakening that resounds in the soul. The love that affirms who we are now and have always been while still calling us to more. The love that unites us all. It is an open invitation that I have the privilege to share, and I watch as that transforming love changes the lives of the students before me. In ministry, I’m blessed to witness the miracles that come from that radical love and also to be the vessel to bring it to those in need.
That love is God. It’s why we’re here. It brings us to life. It keeps us moving forward. It gives us hope. It’s why I minister.
Dr. Patrick Kronner, Choral Program Director and Organist, Director of the Women’s Liturgical Choir and Community Choir
God speaks to his people in many different and varied ways. For some it may be through the comfort of the Mass, or for others, the silence found when we’re open to it. For me, I’ve always felt God’s presence most in beauty. Whether it’s in his creation, the words of a prayer, or in the kindness that people show to one another. However, the beauty that has taken the deepest roots in my life has been the gift of music.
I vividly remember first finding this beauty in Beethoven’s symphonies when they were originally introduced to me in my second grade music class. From then on I would, as most grade-schoolers do, save up my pennies to buy cassette-tapes of Mozart and Bach (Oh, wait—was that just me?!) I felt a strong pull to immerse myself in this beauty. At the same time, I remember falling in love with the beauty of the Church as I experienced it in my community. It wasn’t until high school, though, that these two areas of my life began to intersect.
Through the encouraging guidance and example of a high school mentor, I began to see the peace found in a life devoted to serving God and his people through music. Through my mentor, I was introduced to the pipe organ, the human voice, various monastic traditions, and the vulnerability that necessarily accompanies creativity. This, along with his inspiring love for his family and vocation, became a powerful model of a music minister’s life. It is a life which strives towards holiness through prayer and creativity.
As in most areas of my life, my sense of vocation did not come to me quickly. While I had a passion for music and the Church, it wasn’t always clear that these things should work together in my life. I don’t think I can pinpoint any one moment when I realized my vocation was to be a music minister. Rather, it has been through small moments, encouragement, challenge, and loving examples, that this picture has slowly come into focus.
I feel compelled to bring others to the beauty that I find around me. All of us are created in God’s image and should strive to reflect this beauty in ourselves and in all that we do. I take comfort in the fact that we’re all struggling together as we strive for holiness, just as many saints have done before us.
When I first arrived at Notre Dame for an interview over two years ago, the beauty of this campus was immediately apparent. Despite the gray and cold outside on that particularly frigid February day, I found warmth in all the people I encountered and in all the sights I saw. As I had felt at similar moments of my life, I was drawn to this beauty and curious to explore it further.
Having now spent two years as a campus minister at Notre Dame, I’ve been blessed with many moments of beauty. I’ve experienced it in the musical offerings of our choirs, in the familial care our students have for one another, in the intricate details carefully painted in the Basilica, and in the calm of a walk around the lakes. Most powerfully, I’ve seen it in the examples of service for the body of Christ that many of our choristers are boldly living out through their daily lives. All of this has enlivened my own zeal for ministry here on campus.
I minister because I hope to leave this world more beautiful than it was when I first found it. Jesus, through the greatest act of beauty, gave his life for us that we might fully experience his love and mercy. In the same way that my mentors, choristers, and students have inspired me to delve more deeply into this love, I pray that my work in campus ministry might do likewise for those around me. One of the most loving things we can do is to help others find this in the person of Jesus Christ.
Particularly in the spring, this simple quote from the Greek playwright Nikos Kazantzakis often pops into my mind: “I said to the almond tree, ‘speak to me of God,’ and the almond tree blossomed.” If we use our creativity for the pursuit of beauty, we’ll surely find God.
Mary Olen, Administrative Assistant, Retreat Administrative Coordinator
Why do I stay up watching one more episode of Fargo when I have to work in the morning? Why do I eat that third piece of chicken when I was full after the second piece? Why did I offer to write this blog when I despise writing? Those are the difficult questions! Why we minister? That is much easier.
Leaving Martin’s supermarket, I have a trunk full of groceries and two kids strapped into the backseat. As I pull out onto Elwood Street heading home, I notice a young woman struggling to juggle groceries and a toddler while standing at the bus stop. I pull up to the curb and ask if she would like a ride. She eagerly and gratefully accepts. We make room to pack them into our little Saturn wagon. Driving several miles to the west-side on Indiana Avenue, she points to the building where I should pull over. Mentioning how far she has to travel to grocery shop, she tells me the commute takes her downtown where she transfers buses. The block we are on is not residential and she motions to a door on the side street. We gather her bags and trudge up the stairs which empties into a single dingy room above an abandoned business front. There is one wooden table with 2 chairs, a bed, and a sink. I am ready to drop the groceries and get the heck out of there as she reaches for a bible from the bed and tells me how she is trying to get her life together. She has done a lot of drugs in the past and knows that she needs to stop. Calling me an angel, she believes that God sent me to help her that day. I laugh and tell her I am about as far from an angel as there could be but that I was happy I could be of some help. “Keep praying,” I say “I will pray for you, too.”
Days later, my daughter asked why I picked up a person on the street that I did not know. I told her it was because she seemed like she needed help and I felt sorry for her. As soon as the words were leaving my lips, memories shot back into my mind: my mom taking prepared meals to elderly neighbors, buying extra groceries for a single mom who lived in a rundown house at the end of the alley- witnessing those acts of kindness made a deep impression on me. Are we born with compassion or are we taught compassion? Is caring and compassion what fuels our desire to minister? Did 12 years of Catholic education make a difference? I believe yes is the answer.
The awesome part of ministering is that it often has a retroactive effect. I left the apartment of a stranger I helped and it made me more humble, more grateful, more present and alive to all the blessings in my life. “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” My encounter with a stranger ministered to my children. You do not need an invitation to assist. Ministering is just aiding someone in need or just sitting still for someone who needs a listening ear. We do it every day. Why? Well, that depends on who you are.
So, here I am in Campus Ministry. I am not a minister by definition. I do not hold an MDiv., not even a minor in Theology. As an Administrative Assistant, I minister all day long: to students, to the staff I support, to the people who just drop by because they are visiting campus. But, that is my job. I believe that the true ministering is done with perfect strangers, not expecting anything out of the ordinary who are suddenly given a smile, a hello, a ride as they are standing in the rain waiting for a bus, or given a place in line at the store because they look like they’re in a hurry. Each of these people are being noticed. In that small instance of acknowledgment, they feel loved. Isn’t that what everyone really wants? We seek to minister because we love and we are able to minister because we have witnessed it. Amen.